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CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Two More Hostages Freed By Hamas, Now At Tel Aviv Hospital; CNN Reports, Iranian-Backed Militias To Ramp Up Attacks Against U.S.; White House Clarifies Press Chief's Answer On Anti-Semitism; Columnist Jay Michaelson And Host Natasha Alford Weigh In On The War In Israel; U.S. Congress On Its Third Week Without Speaker. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired October 23, 2023 - 22:00   ET




KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: In these difficult times, of course, there is always hope. The hope is literally the name of Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah, as what it is in Hebrew. A few nights ago, here, a young Canadian pianist named Kevin Chen (ph) served up some of that hope at a concert at New York City's Carnegie Hall. He surprised the audience with a performance of Hatikvah. Israel's official account on social media shared the footage online, thanking Chen for playing that.

I want to thank you so much for joining us on this busy night here. We'll be back tomorrow night, of course. CNN Newsnight with Abby Phillips starts right now.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN HOST: New signs there is growing daylight between the U.S. and Israel on this war, as the clock ticks on the lives of dozens of hostages and millions of civilians. That's tonight on Newsnight.

And good evening, I'm Abby Phillip.

Two more female hostages are now free tonight after being released by Hamas, both are Israeli citizens. Two women, 79 and 85 years old, are now at a hospital in Tel Aviv after being handed over at the Rafah crossing. You'll hear from one of their daughters in a moment.

But, first, CNN is reporting that the U.S. has been pressing Israel to delay its invasion of Gaza to allow for the release of even more hostages. And there are some signs that Israel is getting impatient. Airstrikes have grown, troops have been amassed at the border for a week now and verbal warnings of an impending assault from the, quote, air, ground, and sea are multiplying as these days go by. And Israel, which denied being asked by the U.S. for a delay, says it is not considering any kind of ceasefire.

And there are more signs that the Biden administration has concerns. U.S. intelligence shows that Iranian-backed militias are ready to ramp up their attacks against US forces in the Middle East, an official telling CNN that red lights are flashing everywhere. And this apparent tension over a ground invasion is noteworthy, as we learn that the U.S. has rushed an American three-star general, an expert in urban warfare, to help the Israelis. While the general may be able to advise on how to avoid civilian casualties in a region that is already on fire, it does carry some risks, giving the appearance that may very well be the reality, that the U.S. is linked to the Israeli operation, no matter how it goes.

And at the center of all of this, of course, are these hostages. Here is the daughter of one of the ones that was released tonight speaking with Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: When you heard the news, what went through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: : It's impossible to describe. My mom, I think she has a good smile. I don't know. I'm so delighted, but my heart is with -- you know, this is a small ray of light in a big story that is still unfolding. My father is there. There're so many other people. We are waiting for good news about everyone. My heart is with all of my friends and loved ones and everybody else that are still hostage. I think this is a great sign that we are moving in the right direction.


PHILLIP: Let's get straight to Anderson Cooper, who's on the ground in Tel Aviv. Anderson, what more have we learned tonight about these two hostages who have now been released by Hamas?

COOPER: Yes. Yocheved Lifshitz, who's 85 years old, and Nurit Cooper, no relation to me, who's 79 years old, both were released earlier, going across the southern border into Egypt, where they were then ultimately brought back to Israel. Both are in a hospital, actually, here in Tel Aviv.

I spoke to Ms. Lifshitz's daughter, who was heading from an airport. I think I talked to her when she was about to board a plane at Heathrow Airport. She is flying here. She is obviously overjoyed.

I also spoke to Yocheved's grandson, Daniel, who came down from a lot. Basically, the kibbutz, where these two were kidnapped from, of which Ms. Lifshitz was one of the founders back in 1957 with her husband, that kibbutz was -- there was a huge slaughter there. Of the 400 people who were living there, about a quarter of them are either dead or missing.


Many of them had been kidnapped. They're still now finding bodies of some of them. Those who survived have been relocated to a lot.

So, there's a lot of happiness in this hotel and a lot tonight because that's where these families and their grandson, Daniel, was. He has now flown here to Tel Aviv to see his grandmother. He said she looked great. They didn't go into a lot of details with her about the nature of her captivity or what she may or may not have seen.

But for the family members and, frankly, for everybody here, there's a lot of focus obviously on both of the husbands of these women are still being held along with more than 200 and there's about 218 right now believed hostages currently being held, very young children, more elderly people, people who have severe life-threatening injuries and wounds, people who need medication. There is an urgent call for all of the hostages to be released. That, of course, is all in the hands of Hamas.

PHILLIP: Yes, and it still remains unknown really what methodology they're using to decide who they release and who they do not. And just on that note, I mean, there are so many other families, hundreds, really, that are still waiting for any news of their loved ones who are believed to be in captivity and you actually spoke to one of them. What did they say?

COOPER: I did. This is a couple, an American couple, John Polin and Rachel Goldberg. Their son, Hersh, was kidnapped. He was at the Supernova Music Festival. He was hiding in a shelter with 28 other people. Hamas came along. They threw in multiple grenades into the shelter. Many of the people in that shelter died. Hersh, who's 23, an American, he had his left hand and part of his left arm blown off.

And there's a video which I was able to get to the family last week that actually shows him being loaded by Hamas gunmen into a pickup truck along with three other hostages, all of whom seem to have very serious injuries and being taken away. His status is unknown. But that family has been very outspoken about the urgent need to free all these hostages, and particularly those who are wounded, those who have life- threatening conditions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seeing that video in general gave us a dose of optimism, as horrible as it is as a parent and to see your kid under gunpoint being pushed with one arm, the composure with which he's walking on his own legs, pulling himself with his one weekend, he's a lefty and his left arm was blown off, pulling himself with his one weekend onto the truck gave me a real dose of strength that he's handling a horrible situation and he's doing it with composure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean we're saying he walked out calmly, which he did, but I think it was from shock.


COOPER: That video that they're talking about was a video I actually had been shown by a soldier here about a week-and-a-half ago.

And while I was interviewing that couple about a week ago live on television, I realized, as they were talking about the injury their son had, I realized I had seen this video and I had it in my possession that they had never seen before. They had no proof of life for him. So, I was able to get them that video, send it to them. And it's given them a little bit of hope because it is at least evidence that he was alive with that injury, got into a vehicle. They still do not know what his current status is.

PHILLIP: Wow, that's really incredible. Anderson, thank you for sharing that with us and thanks for being there.

COOPER: Thanks, Abby.

PHILLIP: Two more hostages freed tonight, but the families of hundreds of others are waiting desperately for news about their loved ones and hoping that they will be the next to come home.

With me now is Ahal Besorai. His family lives in Kibbutz Be'eri. And he recently found out that his sister did not survive the attack by Hamas militants. Ahal, thank you so much for being here.

When we last spoke, you had so much hope for your sister and her family. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. How are you holding up tonight?

AHAL BESORAI, FAMILY KIDNAPPED BY HAMAS FROM KIBBUTZ BE'ERI: So, I'm now back in Israel with my family. I think it's extremely -- just extremely sad, a lot of pain, sorrow, grieving. Such a beautiful person killed for, I don't know, being a Jew, being an Israeli, it's just very, very sad. Yes, sorry, please.

PHILLIP: No, there's nothing to be sorry about. I'm so sorry to hear that. I wonder, have you been able to get any information about what happened to her and her family?


She seems to have been, I guess, separated from her husband and your niece and nephew. What do you know about what happened there?

BESORAI: So, we know nothing, really. So, we just know that there were 180 bodies pulled out of Kibbutz Be'eri, where I was grew up with my sister, my dad and other sister, Liv (ph). And she just put in a bag, put into the center and been identified, and now she is dead.

And if I may, I wanted to talk about something over and above my own grief and pain and the pain of my family and what we experience here in Israel. I think what happened here with Hamas and this evil terrorist organization, they don't just hijacked Israelis, they also hijacked the Palestinian cause. And I think this does a tremendous disservice to this cause, because now calls for free Palestine or from the river to the sea actually become slogans, like Itbah al Yahud, which means murder the Jews, you know, because they all now behind this evil ISIS-like, Nazi-like organization and they are like the ones who will free Palestine.

So, I think the Palestinians must separate themselves from this organization because I think them and the progressive in the state, you know, putting themselves behind this evil in a way makes them, in a way, accomplished to all this. And also, I don't think this serves the purpose of getting a step one day. I really don't. And I really hope the death of my sister and the plight that I'm going through -- and it's not just me. There are many, many, many other people here in the same situation as me, you know, looking for loved ones and really don't know what is the situation.

You know, husband and two kids are still considered to be captured. And it's just -- there's a tremendous void, you know, that one has, you know, when you have no information about people that you love. It's very difficult.

PHILLIP: Yes, you make such an interesting point, and I think that's your perspective, you know, as it relates to the Palestinian people. I do wonder, I mean, the rest of your sister's family could very well be in Gaza right now. Do you have concerns about their safety if there is a ground invasion? You were a former Navy SEAL, a ground invasion that could involve street-by-street combat, urban warfare. Are you worried for them?

BESORAI: Of course, I'm worried. But, you know, I think the -- I believe, you know, that there is a chance that if there is a ground invasion, they will be released by the Israeli army.

And I think, you know, in the bigger picture, the dismantling of Hamas and the destruction of this evil Islamic radical organization should not be hindered by the plight of the hostages. It should be a parallel thing. Give some time now because there are some chance maybe people with dual citizenship, maybe children, maybe mothers, maybe babies would be released because they took all of the hostages, and then after this, you know, you need to do something about this cancer or it will kill us, you know? So, it's difficult, you know. But I don't think that you should alter forever hold the ground in Beijing or whatever it takes to dismantle this ISIS-like organization and you should just deal with it as well in parallel to trying to get out the hostages but not at the expense. That's my view.

PHILLIP: That's really an interesting perspective and we appreciate you joining us again and sharing that with us. And we continue to hope with you for the rest of your family. Ahal Besorai, thank you so much.

BESORAI: Thank you, Abby. Thank you.

PHILLIP: And up next, the red lights are flashing everywhere, the new U.S. intel that shows Iranian-backed militias are ready to attack U.S. interests.

Plus, I'll speak with a former Army Special Operations member about the challenges of saving those hostages we were just talking about.

And former President Obama is now speaking out on this crisis, warning Israel how revenge could backfire.



PHILLIP: Tonight, two more hostages are safely out of Gaza, but far outside of the border of Gaza, tensions boiling in the region with new warnings over Iranian-backed groups preparing for attacks against U.S. forces in the region. And joining me now is Alex Plitsas. He's a former member of the Army Special Operations Unit. Alex, you're a really excellent person to talk to about a whole host of things happening.

I want to start with the hostages, because we've seen two Americans released, now two Israelis. Clearly, Hamas is seeing some kind of strategic advantage here in releasing the hostages. What is it in your mind?

ALEX PLITSAS, BOARD MEMBER, SPECIAL OPERATIONS: So, I had responsibility for hostage rescue operations and policy at the Pentagon, and this is by far the most complicated hostage operation I've ever seen. There are 200 people in tunnels. Where they're located, different groups, trying to do simultaneous rescues is going to be extremely difficult, which is why we're seeing negotiations.

So, the drip of two people out and two people out, I think, benefits Hamas. One, the longer that they drag this out, the more focus is on the humanitarian conditions in Gaza as opposed to what happened with the 1,400 people that were murdered.

PHILLIP: One of the other things we're learning is that these hostages were released out of the Rafah crossing right around here, right in the south of Gaza.

So, just a couple of things, I mean, we already understand, I'm going to go to this other map here, this is Northern Gaza. This is where the Israelis have said, evacuate, because we're going to be really active in this area. This is Rafah all the way down here. Do you have a sense of what that tells us about where the hostages might have been, where they might have traveled to, anything like that?

PLITSAS: Sure. So, most of the other crossings are closed. The main crossing right now, and then that would be into Egypt, would be Rafah.


So, the Israelis have asked the citizens of Northern Gaza to include Gaza City to move south the green line that you've drawn there, which is Wadi Gaza. So, that's about 1.1 million people, or half of the population.

So, Gaza itself is like an ant farm. There's somewhere between 50 to 100, not just tunnels, tunnel complexes under the ground, so the hostages are dispersed all over the place.

PHILLIP: Yes. One of the other factors in this is the regional -- the risk of regional escalation. And the U.S. now saying that they're seeing real activity from Iran-backed militias all around the region, that has a lot of people worried. When you look at this map, this is a map of Israel's, as they like to say, a very dangerous neighborhood right here, okay? So, when you look at this, what do you see are the risks here for escalation?

PLITSAS: Sure. So, there's a number of risks for escalation. So, right now, Hamas is sponsored by Iran in terms of being a proxy force. Iran has sponsored a number of proxies in the region for a number of years. I myself fought in the Battle of Sadr City in 2008 against the Shia- backed militias from Muqtada al-Sadr. So, they've backed the militias in Iraq, inside Syria, and then in Southern Lebanon with Hezbollah. So, it's known as the Shia Crescent.

So, basically, Tehran pretty much controls foreign policy from Tehran across through Baghdad, Damascus, all the way through Southern Lebanon, to the Mediterranean, and then also the Houthi rebels down in Yemen, where the Saudis and the Iranians had fought a proxy war for quite some time.

So, each of those represents a particular risk. And the Iranians early on in the conflict had stated that if they were to be attacked directly, that they would respond with proxies from these locations.

So we've seen recently the last couple of days, we've seen two strategic ballistic missile launches by the Houthi rebels in Yemen that had to be taken down --

PHILLIP: This is down here.

PLITSAS: Yes, exactly, by U.S. Navy ships that were in the area to bring the missiles down, and then attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, which is a message from the Iranians.

PHILLIP: Yes, this is what we're showing up here. This has been a really active area here. And it's gone from a question of whether this attack down here was something that was perhaps coincidental. Now, we're seeing more attacks happening in the region, it's looking not coincidental at all, but more planned.

PLITSAS: No, you're entirely right, and given the timing, all within a matter of hours of one another, and particularly the missiles in Yemen. We haven't seen ballistic missile launches like that, and there's no way that a strategic asset would be authorized. And even if it was just Iran saying, hey, guys, I'm fine with you doing what you want, there is at least some sort of tacit permission from the Iranians, if not a coordinated message to both the United States and Israel, we can reach out and touch you whenever we want. And if this ground incursion goes forward, that's the risk that you run. It's a deterrence message from the Iranians.

PHILLIP: Yes, similar to the U.S. sending more firepower into the region, also a deterrence force. Alex Plitsas, thank you so much for joining us on all of that.

And former President Obama now has a new warning for Israel as it readies a ground incursion and also a plea to Americans about the dialogue around this war.

Plus, fans reportedly walking out of Dave Chappelle's show after the comedian criticized Israel.


[22:26:53] PHILLIP: One Democratic lawmaker called it a weak answer. And tonight, the White House is clarifying its messaging around the rise of anti- Semitism following this afternoon's press briefing. When initially asked by CNN's M.J. Lee about the president's level of concern specifically about threats against the Jewish community, the White House press secretary said this.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we have not seen any credible threats. I know there's been always questions about credible threats. And so I just want to make sure that that's out there.

But, look, Muslim and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks. And certainly, President Biden understands that many of our Muslim, Arab-Americans and Palestinian-American loved ones and neighbors are worried about the hate being directed at their communities.


PHILLIP: Now, there was a lot of criticism for that response to a question that started about anti-Semitism, and her answer was focused instead on anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Now, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has since posted on X to be clear the president and our team are very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism, especially after the horrific Hamas terrorist attack in Israel. That's why the president mobilized his Homeland Security team to address any potential threats that could harm Jewish communities as well as Muslim, Arab-American, and Palestinian-American communities.

And according to a new intelligence assessment put out by the Department of Homeland Security, hate crimes rooted in both anti- Semitism and in Islamophobia will surge in the U.S. as the war between Israel and Hamas intensifies.

Now, former President Obama is also weighing in today releasing a statement that underscored his support for Israel and its fight to defend its citizens from violent attacks. But he also issued a warning, reading, in part, but even as we support Israel, we should also be clear that how Israel prosecutes this fight against Hamas matters. In particular, it matters, as President Biden has repeatedly emphasized, that Israel's military strategy abides by international aw, including those laws that seek to avoid, to every possible extent, the death or suffering of civilian populations.

With me now is Jay Michaelson. He's a columnist for Rolling Stone. And also with us here, Natasha Alford, she's a CNN political analyst.

Natasha, this is really interesting from President Obama. He didn't have to do this. This is a very lengthy post. But he seemed to be offering some guidance to his own party at a time when, clearly, Democrats are a little riven here between the left that wants to voice more support for the Palestinian people and others who want pretty unequivocal support for Israel.

NATASHA ALFORD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what you see is a president walking a tightrope, understanding that this horrible attack by Hamas has taken innocent lives. And at the same time, the American people have been watching innocent children slaughtered, right?


And they're seeing it on their phones and in real time in a way that maybe in the past they did not have that.

Often the media is an intermediary or, you know, politicians sort of create a narrative and they share that, but the American people are seeing this directly and without filter.

And for that reason, you have to speak to the lives lost because there are so many people who they may not know the intricate history of Israel and Palestine. They may not even be able to point it out on a map but they feel that the cost is too high when they look at the people who are dying.

And so, politicians have to -- they cannot ignore that reality of being able to speak to the value of all lives in the situation. And so, he does that in this statement, calling out the need to abide by international law. But also saying that we should not repeat the mistakes that the U.S. has made in the past when it came to 9-11.

And I thought that was really remarkable because it is highlighting that, you know, this is something that we've seen before. And we talked about Islamophobia, anti-Semitism.

We've seen this play out in America because we know that this is something that we have struggled with, hate, acceptance, this sense of all people sort of belonging and being American. So, that is why it's important.

PHILLIP: So, Jay, I want you to just kind of weigh in on that, but I just want to preface it by saying that you have a pretty unique view of this as someone, you are actually a rabbi and you're so close to the Jewish community.

How, obviously, I mean, as someone has put it, Jews in America and around the world are not okay today. But what is it like to be sort of more on the left as a Jewish person right now?

JAY MICHAELSON, COLUMNIST, "ROLLING STONE": Yeah, that was my article, "Your Jewish Friends Are Not Okay."

PHILLIP: Oh yeah, that was you.

MICHAELSON: In my newsletter. And the -- we're very much not okay. This whole episode is triggering not only sort of deep trauma, this was the largest number of Jews massacred since the Holocaust, but also a real sense, as you said, you know, of alienation.

Those of us who are on the sort of liberal side of the political spectrum witnessed some deafening silence on October 7th and 8th, or justifications of terrorism, where nothing, not even the justice of the Palestinian cause, which I do believe in, could justify what happened.

And I think, you know, the two statements that we just looked at kind of illustrate that it is exactly a minefield, right? Everybody's extremely sensitive.

PHILLIP: Do you think he navigated it?

MICHAELSON: I felt the Obama statement. I actually liked the Obama statement. I noticed it was to the left of President Biden's statement. I thought that was intentional. Why is President Obama putting out a statement at all? Well, because there are perspectives that can't really go into an official White House statement, but which are important. And I think he did do that.

I also did an article kind of on the international law of this issue, because I'm an attorney as well. And you know, there's a lot of loose talk happening right now. The word genocide is getting thrown around really carelessly. Well, there's actually a definition of that term that you know, isn't being looked at as closely, and that actually, I think, informs the discussion.

So, here I felt like this was actually kind of an attempt to tone us down a little bit. Not that this isn't important, not that we shouldn't have our feelings and our political and moral commitments, but that this is not a time to jump on. I'm not with those who jumped on the White House statement.

For example, it wasn't a great statement, it was kind of a mistake, but I think if we could kind of take one step back from the precipice here, just in our rhetoric, that might actually serve our values more.

PHILLIP: One of the other things that happened recently, Dave Chappelle the comedian -- he reportedly had a walkout late last week of one of his shows after he gave his own take on this war.

It was in a show in Boston. We've also seen, you know, tech CEOs stepping down. We've seen students facing consequences, big dollar donors pulling out of universities that they once supported.

There's a big debate happening about where this line is in our society between speech and other things that need to be marginalized that are not acceptable. How is this going in your view?

ALFORD: I mean, I don't think it's going great, right? We're already in this space where we are flooded with misinformation. There are people who are intentionally using propaganda to divide us to make sure that we don't even have a democracy. So, imagine this on an international level.

Again, I said this earlier, but there's so many Americans who could not even point to you where Israel is on a map, and that's just speaking to the way that we think about our place in the world. We often don't look out at the world and care about others. But now that you have people caring, again, people watching their

phones, this is a moment for education, and it speaks to the power of the media to do the right thing.

MICHAELSON: I feel like that's the understatement of the year that it's not going well, right? I mean, this has been a total breakdown in civil discourse in this country, and it's scrambled our usual alliances, right?


So, normally it's sort of aggrieved conservatives who don't like cancel culture.

Those same conservatives were calling for the cancellation and firing of pro-Palestinian activists who signed a letter that -- I didn't love that letter, to put it mildly, but who were expressing their free speech rights.

Meanwhile, on the left, where a lot of people care about safe spaces, Jews are being harassed in public spaces, in high schools, in colleges, in universities, everywhere. On the street, there's graffiti in the subway. There's street violence everywhere.

You know, a few months ago, before this conflagration, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a temple two miles from my home. Now my kid's school district is getting notes that there are not only extra cops everywhere, but Jewish schools are being closed.

So, this is a moment of extreme, I would just say panic and trauma that we're going through as a society. And it's more than just not okay, because there are many who are exploiting this moment to make political points or to grandstand or something like that. And that to me is really deplorable.

ALFORD: My fear is for the most innocent among us, and those are the children. I cannot get the image of Wadiya, six years old out of my mind. That is what we face right now if we do not tell the truth of what's happening.

PHILLIP: Well, look, I think this is probably a moment where a lot more people who are doing a lot of talking should be doing quite a lot more listening, including listening to Jewish people who are in a lot of pain right now and Palestinian people who are in a lot of pain right now and creating some space for that, as well. Jay Michaelson, Natasha Alford, both of you. Great conversation, thank you.

And up next, breaking news from Capitol Hill. Republicans just got out of their audition forum for the next speaker. We'll speak with one of those lawmakers who is inside that room. Stand by for that.



PHILLIP: Moments ago, House Republicans essentially holding auditions for eight -- eight speaker candidates. That's 20 days after Kevin McCarthy was ousted and three days after Jim Jordan was rejected. We'll hear from a lawmaker who was inside the meeting in a moment.

But first, it's worth remembering that there is a Republican primary for president still happening right now. And the frontrunner of that race had some pretty wild and notable moments today on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. First, Donald Trump on his own legal jeopardy.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This is all Biden stuff, all of these indictments that you see. I was never indicted, practically never heard the word. It wasn't a word that registered.


PHILLIP: Trump obviously has been indicted four times now, and he seemed to remember this fact just an hour later in his speech.


TRUMP: I had a rough day at the office today, darling. I love you very much. I got indicted. And next week I'll be indicted again, and the following week again, and then again, and again, and again.


PHILLIP: And in one of those cases, he offered up a new defense today.


TRUMP: I did nothing wrong at all. In fact, my box was secure. Everything was good.


PHILLIP: Just a reminder that many of these boxes, as you can see here, classified documents, they were in the public, others were found in a bathroom like this one. And more importantly, that's also not the point of the charges.

He also, by the way, commented on yet another case, this time it's the civil one involving his company, by again, attacking the judge, despite already being under a limited gag order.


TRUMP: And this radical left judge, he's a Trump-hating judge, hates Trump, he refuses to accept the appeal court's decision. So, the case should be dropped immediately.


PHILLIP: Now, an appeals court judge did not exonerate him. Instead, the judge ruled that the dissolution of his companies should be paused while that trial proceeds. But then Trump went on to compare himself to, of all people, Nelson Mandela.


TRUMP: We don't get scared. I'll tell you what, I don't mind being Nelson Mandela because I'm doing it for a reason.


PHILLIP: Just a reminder, Mandela spent 27 years behind bars for taking a stand against South Africa's apartheid system. Trump also praised some of the world's strongmen and then he mixed up his countries while doing it.


TRUMP: You know, I was very honored as a man, Viktor Orban. Did anyone ever hear of him? He's probably like one of the strongest leaders anywhere in the world. And he's the leader of, right? He's the leader of Turkey.


PHILLIP: Viktor Orban is the leader of Hungary and Erdogan is the leader of Turkey. Trump also today fantasized about a physical fight with his successor. He was recalling when Biden said he would have taken him out behind the gym at a high school.


TRUMP: I'd hit him right in that fake nose. That fake nose. They'd have plastic lying all over the floor.


PHILLIP: Now, given his potential rematch with President Biden, it is interesting that he once again downplayed the very idea of voting.


PHILLIP: You got to get out there and you got to watch those voters. You don't have to vote. Don't worry about voting. The voting, we got plenty of votes. You got to watch election night.


PHILLIP: Now, whether that was said seriously or in jest, just keep in mind that many Republicans blamed comments just like those for their losses in 2020 and in the midterms in 2022. And Trump also, in another comment, made a riff on a new discovery that he made.



TRUMP: I'm for us. I'm for us. You know how you spell us, right? You spell us, U.S. I just picked that up. Has anyone ever thought of that? I just picked that up. Couple of days I'm reading and it said, us. And I said, you know, if you think about it, us equals U.S., isn't that? Now, if we say something genius, they'll never say it.


PHILLIP: Genius or profound, whatever you want to call it. By the way, he also vowed to build an iron dome type system for the U.S. and he suggested that the U.S. has a single religion.


TRUMP: I will implement strong ideological screening of all immigrants. If you hate America, if you want to abolish Israel, if you don't like our religion, which a lot of them don't, if you sympathize with Jihadists, then we don't want you in a country.


PHILLIP: And finally, and that's been a lot already, but finally on the Speaker's race, Trump says that he's not endorsing this time. After his last pick, Jim Jordan failed to advance as Speaker, and he used a historical figure to illustrate just how deep of a mess the GOP is in.


TRUMP: I said there's only one that can do it all the way. You know who that is? Jesus Christ. Jesus came down and said, I want to be Speaker. He would do it.


PHILLIP: I want to now turn to someone who was in that closed door meeting we talked to you about earlier. That meeting just happened. He's also one of the eight Republicans behind this nearly three-week speaker fight, voting to oust former speaker Kevin McCarthy earlier this month.

Joining me now is Tennessee Congressman Tim Burchett, Congressman. I don't know if Jesus Christ was in this meeting, whether he will get the votes to be speaker, but take us in there. What happened? What was the reaction to all of the slate of candidates who basically had their auditions tonight?

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): Well, thank you, Ms. Phillips. It's a pleasure. Phillip, excuse me. I know it's not plural. Thank you for having me on. And the only place I know Jesus was in that room was in my heart. So, as a Southern Baptist, I can say that. But thank you so much for having me on, ma'am.

And I don't say that lightly either. I mean, I truly believe that, actually. The Bible says you do lie before men, I'll deny you for the gates of heaven. And I sure don't want to do that, especially on CNN.

But we had a very good meeting. We had nine men stand up there and offer themselves, I guess, on the sacrificial altar of being speaker. But eight emerged. Dan Meuser decided not to run. And he called for unity and received a standing ovation.

I thought he handled himself very well. And well, we have a very deep bench and I think we're in very good shape. I think we'll have -- something will emerge from that this week and hopefully we can get back to business.

PHILLIP: So, Matt Gaetz has said that there might be a speaker, a new speaker by tomorrow night. Do you think that's the case?

BURCHETT: I think that's very possible. I don't speak for Matt. He doesn't speak for me, but he knows as well as I do that the eight gentlemen that are in there, each of them could handle it. And I think each of them could do the job very well.

And they're concerned about our fiscal situation. They understand that we're $33 trillion in debt, that we're taking in $5 trillion and spending $7 trillion. We spend a trillion dollars a year, if you can imagine that, just on interest alone. And a lot of that goes to our enemy, Communist Chinese. And I didn't mean to cut you off.

PHILLIP: No, no, that's okay, Congressman. I don't mean to interrupt you. I just want to clarify though. I mean, you've said just recently that you think that whoever is going to be to get to the floor -- obviously they have to get about 217 votes.

BURCHETT: Exactly.

PHILLIP: And they have to come out of the conference with that. I mean, do you think that there was one candidate who came out of this process most likely to get to 217 and if so, who is it?

BURCHETT: I think there is, but as you stated, I'm one of the eight that called for the previous speaker's ouster. So, I'm afraid -- I think that my best strategy would be to endorse the person who I don't like the most and have them fall on their sword, so to speak. So, I'm going to keep that between me and them and my voting will be done tomorrow. But I don't think that would help the cause very much.

PHILLIP: This has been going on now for three weeks. If there is not a speaker, I mean, don't you think enough is enough here? How chaotic has this been for your party? I think it would just be a blip, actually. You know, if you ask a kid what happened on September 11th, you ask half of America right now, and they probably would not be able to tell you.

PHILLIP: I mean, a lot of your colleagues are saying that they're hearing quite the opposite when they go home. They're hearing that voters think that this is nonsense.

BURCHETT: Sure. Well, like I said, but in two weeks, there'll be something else. I always just say there'll be another wreck on the interstate, not that I want a wreck to happen on the interstate, but something else will happen.

[22:50:00] I mean, of course, the war in Israel against Hamas and that'll be the headline. And I'm sure Ukraine and our borders are just overflowing with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants coming over monthly. And I think that's going to be an issue.

I think the issue of the number of people on our terrorist watch list that have come over our southern border, for goodness sakes, is an issue. You know, you used to hear a lot of talk about fentanyl, and nobody's even talking about it now.

PHILLIP: Congressman, I just want to -- because you said something about 9-11 earlier. You're not comparing this situation to 9-11.

BURCHETT: Oh, no, ma'am. I was saying historically.

PHILLIP: You described it as a blip, but I wouldn't even describe 9-11 as a blip. I just want to give you a chance to --

BURCHETT: No, ma'am. Well, I'm just saying historically, if you ask kids, ask them what happened on December 7, 1941, and I would dare say that many people would not be able to answer that. My point is this, is that we do a poor job of remembering history, and this will be one of those things that I don't think anybody will --

PHILLIP: Well --

BURCHETT: --will ever. And I would never play down 9-11. I lost a couple of friends in that, so I would never play that down.

PHILLIP: I think the other part of this, Congressman, is that this isn't just about history. It's also just about the next three to four weeks in which Congress has to do some things, including on the war, on the government funding, and none of that has happened or been able to happen in the last three weeks because of all of this chaos.

BURCHETT: Well, I would submit to you, the war just started, and the bill has not come over from the Senate yet, from the president. And we know that $100 billion package is going to have some problems.

Only 10 billion of it is actually, well, about 12, I think, billion of it is actually Israel. And the rest is for Ukraine. And hiring more bureaucrats to process folks coming in over our border.

PHILLIP: Either way, there's still no speaker.

BURCHETT: Yes, ma'am.

PHILLIP: There's nobody who can handle it.

BURCHETT: But the bill's not up. The bill has not even come up, and we've been off. Technically, we were supposed to be off even last week, so we were here trying to elect a speaker. But I would say that -- I would also submit to you, too.

The President has already put the Gerald R. Ford carrier group, one of the largest in the world, actually, is already in the Mediterranean. Six other ships are there. The Iron Dome is currently funded, I believe.

We spend about -- we send on auto check, basically $3.6 billion to Israel every year. They are, according to the briefings that I've got, they are well-armed and they're ready to go and they're going to take care of business as long as the United States stays out of their way.

PHILLIP: All right, so we'll see what happens tomorrow. If there's no speaker, we'll have you back on to explain yourself. Congressman Tim Burchett, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you, Ms. Phillips. It's been a pleasure.

PHILLIP: And so, what is the best path forward now for getting Congress out of this mess? McKay Coppins joins me next.



PHILLIP: We just heard from a Republican who was inside of that closed door meeting about who the next speaker of the House might be. And for more, I want to bring in McKay Coppins, a staff writer for "The Atlantic". He's the author of the new bombshell book, "Romney, A Reckoning." It's hitting bookshelves tomorrow.

Mitt Romney getting out of Dodge just in time to not have to deal with all of this stuff. I mean, this is honestly, I think, the fulfillment of things that he seems like has been warning about for a really long time. What is he looking at this thinking right now as somebody who's probably spent way too much time in his diaries and in parts of his brain?

MCKAY COPPINS, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, and I've talked to him about what's going on in the House.


COPPINS: And he said, you know, when he first arrived at the Senate a few years ago, somebody told him early on, here in the Senate, 20 senators do all the work and 80 of the rest are just here for the ride. They want to make noise. They want to get on TV. That's it.

I think the proportions are even worse in the House, right? The dysfunction is one thing, but it's rooted in a cynicism, right? I think we heard some of it in that interview we just had that, you know, there's this idea that, you know, the consequences of this aren't, you know, they're not going to be remembered. Nobody's going to remember this in a few weeks.

And I think that belief that it doesn't really matter -- what we're doing day to day, it has been internalized by a lot of people in Congress.

PHILLIP: These -- all these revolts that kind of led up to this, built up to this, like the Tea Party one that got, I'm sorry, John Boehner kicked out, and then Paul Ryan basically pushed out. The institutionalists still won at the end of the day. This time, it seems like you know, the rebels are running the place and it's not actually functioning very well.

COPPINS: No, I think you're right. I think that, you know, part of the reason that Mitt Romney for all of his, you know, he talked a lot about Mitch McConnell to me, who is writing this book. And he had, he has a lot of problems with McConnell, but he still sees McConnell as somebody who's trying to keep the train on the tracks, right?

But McConnell is losing his grip on his caucus in the Senate. And I think in the House, there is no McConnell, right? There is no -- no Republican statesman who knows how to manage the egos, who knows how to give the various members what they need to keep things going.

We just saw McCarthy get ousted, and now we've just seen a succession of people who don't know how to run the government. And that used to be the main, you know, qualification for somebody to be Speaker of the House.

Now, that's not what people are looking for. They're looking for who can cultivate enough allies to just get through the next few days.

PHILLIP: Yeah, one of the other things in the book, Romney told you that a very large portion of my party really doesn't believe in the Constitution. And I think about that because the last round of this speaker vote, it was Jim Jordan, an election denier. There are now eight candidates up there, a couple of them election deniers.

As to your point, one of them, you know, at least one of the, Byron Donalds, literally was just elected and recently, even recently wouldn't say that Joe Biden was the duly and fairly elected president. Is this what Romney's talking about here?

COPPINS: No question. I mean, the reason that he agreed to, you know, turn over all his emails, turn over all his journals, tell me all these stories from behind the scenes, is because he's worried about the fragile state of our democracy.

He believes that what we're seeing in the House, what we've seen in the Senate in the last few years, January 6th, all of these are, you know, just data points in the fragility of American democracy.

And he thinks that, you know, he looks at this book and I look at this book as a warning for Americans that all the theatrics, this isn't just, you know, performance art, this isn't just drama, this is a symptom of a deeply dysfunctional government and a sick democracy.


COPPINS: And we as Americans need to take that more seriously.

PHILLIP: It's hard to even see how it gets healed if the analogy is a sick patient. I don't know where the cure is coming from. It doesn't seem to be -- the patient doesn't seem to be all that interested in being cured. McKay Coffins, thank you so much for this. And the book is called "Romney: A Reckoning".

And I want to thank you also for watching us tonight on "NewsNight". Laura Coates is up next. "Laura Coates Live" starts right now. Hey Laura.

LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Hey Abby, thank you so much. A great show as always. I'll read that book for sure. We'll see you again here tomorrow night, okay?

PHILLIP: I'm sure you can.

COATES: All my free time.